Presets vs. styles

I haven’t been working with Scrivener for a long time so I’m still finding some surprising facts as I use it for my current writing project. Today I learned that Scrivener does not have ‘styles’ but rather it has ‘presets’.

I’m sure there is a reason for that but I became a bit scared when I read in the manual that the difference between presents and styles is that only the latter “keep assigned ranges of text up to date with style sheets”.

The reason I find this scary is obvious. If I ever decide (or someone else does) that I have to use a different font, font size or whatever for titles, main body, section titles, etc., will I have to go over the document and apply new presets paragraph by paragraph?

I find the decision to implement a ‘preset’ system as opposed to word processor styles a bit surprising since Scrivener is specially apt for long documents and long documents do benefit from the style-sheet approach.

My question for users is, how do you approach this “problem”? Are there any special tricks one can use if all of a sudden one realizes that the formatting must change for some reason?

Thanks a lot for your help in advance.

A confused new user.

Scrivener’s focus is as a drafting tool, not a word processor. That’s certainly its value to me as a user, with its multiplicity of features for ensuring the content is right that word processors don’t have. I keep a word processor on my Mac for laying out and in some cases formatting my documents after they’ve been structured, composed and written in Scrivener. That’s not to say that Scrivener doesn’t have some tools for format and layout, such that you can get your document publication-ready if the format is simple. But that’s not the application’s main purpose. So my answer to your question (there may be other answers) is: depending on the complexity required, I’d compile my work from Scrivener to a word processor with style sheets for the final versions.


Scrivener uses the standard OS X text system which doesn’t have styles, and I am but a single programmer. :slight_smile: Moreover, as Hugh says, Scrivener isn’t a word processor but a drafting tool - in general you don’t worry too much about fonts but override them all at the Compile stage. A full styles system would be a massive undertaking and is technically more difficult in Scrivener because in Scrivener, you are not dealing with a single file across which styles can be set, but with multiple files. Thus a styles system would need to update a lot of text “behind the user’s back”.

A styles system is on the long list for the future, but I’m unlikely to look at it serious before 3.0.

All the best,

There’s also a lot of power in Scrivener’s compile settings. For all the things you mentioned, I’d personally go about it by establishing a structure in the binder that would allow the flexibility to alter title, section titles, and main text font with just a couple clicks in the formatting tab of compile. You can set different fonts, sizes, and attributes to different types of documents (folders, document stacks, and single documents) and based on their level in the binder hierarchy, and you can deal with the titles separately from the main text.

For some things of course this may not be sufficient, and that’s when you’ll want to just compile with as close as you can get and then make the final changes in a word processor capable of dynamic style sheets. Using your own tags to indicate different sections that will need styles can help to do a quick find/replace type styling once you’re in the word processor (how you can do that will depend on the word processor, but at minimum it will make it easy for you to go through and find where you do need to slap on a style). But there is a lot that can be done just by tweaking the compile settings, so it’s worth taking a look over that section of the User Manual or checking out some of the forum posts that relate to that, and of course if you have any specific questions at that stage we’re all around to help. :wink:

Here is a practical demonstration of why stylesheets don’t matter as much in Scrivener as they do in a word processor:

[size=85](Ignore the ‘i’ icons in the compile option list, that’s just placeholder stuff in a WIP build)[/size]

  1. In the first frame you have the Scrivener window. For ease of readability while writing, you can use a nice big font that is is comfortable on the eyes and whatever other formatting you prefer.
  2. The second frame shows the relevant “Formatting” option pane in the Compiler. Titles have been turned on for all types of icons, and in the mock editor, you can see that the title has been styled as a larger, bold Times New Roman, while the body text is double-spaced 12pt Courier.
  3. The third frame shows the compiled document as it might appear in a word processor. Arrows have been drawn showing where the various elements are coming from. Titles are being generated in the compiler, using their Binder names, not typed into the draft at all. This way you can modify their form and function in one place, and easily change your mind later. One tweak in the formatting pane will correct hundreds of titles at once; everything that has been said above. Same goes for the text, which is now much more presentable for print and proofing. I should have indented the paragraphs in the example; but you can do that too.

This procedure is what you would be using stylesheets for in a word processor, but it lets you ignore all of the setup. In a word processor you have to be somewhat aware of styles while you are writing. You have to go and pick the right header style for the right occasion, make sure you are still in “Body” when writing, and all that; one can get used to working that way, but we see it as a distraction. The Scrivener philosophy is to try and ignore all of these things so you can just get on with the writing. You don’t have to do anything while composing or worry about these details once you know how it all fits together. Merely moving items around in the outline determines what sort of header they should use, automatically. This is demonstrated in the screenshot, where a Folder has a special header type that is even larger and centre-aligned.

OK, thanks! I can confirm now that behind a great product there is usually a great community as well. Your answers helped me do what I wanted. Perhaps in the next version of the manual there should be a little summary of what Jennifer and Ioa suggested after the warning that Scrivener doesn’t have styles but rather presets. The solution you provided gets ‘presets’ to do almost what styles do.

I had thought about the solution that Hugh suggested but actually one of the reasons I came to Scrivener because I hate the word processors I have been using so far. With the exception of WordPerfect, I have never felt comfortable using most word processors (above all MS Word or OpenOffice). Since WordPerfect has all but disappeared and it is not available for Mac, I decided to look for an alternative and then I came across Scrivener.

I fully aware of the fact that Scrivener is not a word processor. However, it is so close to being one that I prefer to do as much as I can within it. Having full fledged style sheets would be a great bonus but I understand that this might be difficult to implement given the current architecture of the application.

As I said, the solution you suggested, though it is not ideal, is working pretty well. I have had to do some adjustments to the way I work to be able to implement this solution such as for instance creating a folder for each section title I use and then create a text element embedded in that folder that only has the text for that section but doesn’t contain the heading of the section. This involved a little work since I had already created all the structure for the paper (which has lots of sections and subsections of the type 1. --> 1.1 --> 1.1.1 --> etc.) and I had to split the heading from the body for each section, but I think if I integrate this in my work flow when I start an article, it will become easier and easier.

The other thing that was kind of difficult was to figure out and manage the levels of embedding for the different items. I had assumed that if I had a text element within a folder, this text would be considered level 1 independently of how deeply embedded its parent folder was. The levels of embedding are calculated in absolute terms, though. That is, if a text element is the first text element in a folder that is itself embedded in another folder, this text element will be considered as level 2 (i.e. as if it was embedded in another text element) even though the text element is not embedded in another text element. That was confusing for me and yielded some unexpected results when I compiled the document.

Anyway, as I said, thanks a lot to all of you for responding so quickly and helpfully.


That’s correct - this gives you complete control over the formatting. If it used relative terms you would never be able to format text documents contained in folders two level deeps differently to those contained in folders one level deep, which would be limiting. Remember that if all text documents use the same format, though, you only need to create one level. Or if all text documents after a certain level should use the same formatting, then you just stop creating levels at the last one in which the formatting changes. That is, if you have 10 levels of documents in your project, and the first two levels use a different formatting to all the other levels, you only need to create three levels of formatting in Compile - Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3+ which will apply to level 3 documents and all subsequent levels.

Compile can take a little while to set up depending on your project (for projects that require simple formatting such as novels, it takes no time at all), but this is the cost of utter flexibility in the program itself. Scrivener imposes no rules on the structure the user uses in the binder, because it is a drafting tool - you can throw documents around anywhere and just hammer out the words without worrying too much about the formatting (or you can use a rigid structure and format as you go - it’s entirely up to the user to decide what works best for his or her particular project). But because Scrivener allows such flexibility, there is no simple set of rules it can use to format a document on output. It thus gives the user two options: just compile and export to a word processor without worrying about the format, and then fix everything up in the word processor; or, spend some time tweaking the Compile settings to work for your particular structure. The Compile settings are flexible and powerful enough to allow you to export or print your text using almost any formatting you need, but there is inevitably some complexity involved because they have to allow for absolutely any possible structure.

All the best,

You also may want to save your compile settings so that you can easily load them in other projects. You may still need to make some tweaks per project, but you won’t have to go through the entire set up again.

Well, it takes a little effort to adjust to the Scrivener philosophy but I’m digging it :slight_smile: Thanks for your help. This info about formatting being inherited from the last configured level is very useful.


When I export my project from Scrivener to Nisus Writer, this latter allows me to select all text formatted in a particular way. This means that I can select all Level 2 headings at once, and apply them the Heading 2 paragraph style, and all attributes of the style (including numbering) are applied. Quick ‘n’ easy.


Now, that is nice! I’ve heard a lot of good things about Nisus write. I really should give it a try. I find the price a bit too high, though. Better price than MS Word and I’m sure that for a better product, but still I find $79 a bit too steep. I’m going to give it a try, though.


Can list formatting definitions get saved in presets?

Thanks to ptram and MimeticMouton for the suggestions of (a) a program that will let you search based on formatting and (b) creating my own tags so that I can search & apply styles in Pages (or other word processor). :smiley:

I sat here this morning with my husband for a few hours trying to figure out all of the translation issues between Scrivener/Sente/Pages/Word for my dissertation (he uses Pages a lot…). Though I understand completely that Scrivener is an organizational tool for thinking with words, by the time I get into my word processor, there are standard tweaks that have to be done, but are impossible to do without styles (space after figures, “keep with next paragraph” for section titles, accurate tables of contents, etc.). I realize that some of this can be done before (or through) the compile commands, but folks have already mentioned that this was not the intention for Scrivener. It seems as though exporting a meta-data of style would be simpler than trying to pack in (almost!) all of the various formatting commands into the Compile. But of course, I’m not a programmer :wink:. At the end of our brainstorming, we decided that we wanted what ptram said that Nisus does, but MimeticMouton’s suggestion is a great alternative work-around.

Anyway, I love this program, and thank you all so much for responding to jfontana—I found my answer through a simple search :slight_smile: